What – and Why – We’re Leaving

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This isn’t a pretty story, but it’s real. And it’s what’s happened here… and in many other attractive parts of the U.S. (And probably in other countries, too.)

Hats - early morning
An early morning photo in our front hall.

We’ve lived in our current apartment for about six years. It’s next-door to Disney World, and from door-to-door, we can be inside Epcot within 20 minutes. Or, with a slightly longer commute, enjoying attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom.

At first, this was a wonderful place to live. Most of our neighbors were Disney Cast Members, and some were in Entertainment. We’d hear them practicing their songs at breakfast, and sometimes around dinnertime. Everyone smiled. Everyone was chatty.

Downstairs, our neighbor was a police officer – one of several here – given reduced rent in exchange for being on-call (in rotation) to deal with late-night issues like loud pool parties, etc.

So, nights were generally quiet.

And when the wind was “just so,” we could hear the ferry boat horns on Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon, and sometimes the music from Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. From our lawn, we could see nightly fireworks at several Disney World parks.

For a moderate-to-high rent (for Orlando), we felt blessed to live in an almost-perfect place.

Sure, the heat could be extreme, but my husband had a good job, and I was inspired – as a writer and as an artist – by the sense of being close to Disney. (My mother had created all the artwork for Disney’s “Fantasyland” board game, and other Disney-related games, so I kind of grew up as a “Disney kid.”)

And here, with very affordable Florida Resident passes to Disney World, we could hop over to Epcot for a stroll around the World Showcase, any day, on a whim.

So, when our rent climbed a little out of our reach, we were willing to compromise our budget… and as time went on, our savings.

After all, living in a dream location seemed worth it.

And then, it wasn’t.

After a year or so, our apartment’s management changed.

Gradually, noise issues increased at night, and the police moved to other, nearby apartment complexes. No one was “on call” unless it was a genuine emergency like a burst water pipe.

And then the complex was sold to entirely new owners, who – after a brief respite with a great property manager – turned it over to someone far less helpful.

tub overflow cap
Two years after I reported water leaking inside our bathroom ceiling and walls, the tub overflow cap fell off. And now, due to water damage inside the walls, there’s too much rust to reattach it.

It appeared that the new manager’s orders were to keep expenses as low as possible, especially since most Disney employees had moved out. After all, indefinite Covid closures meant no access to Disney World… and layoffs.

So, many neighboring apartments were empty for months.

But then Disney reopened, and – with it – more jobs in the hospitality industry and construction.

For us, the turning point was November 2020, when new neighbors moved in overhead and started waking us nightly with their violent arguments – shouts, screams, stomping, and heavy thuds on the floor overhead.

When we complained to the property managers, we were told it was just “a lifestyle difference.”  There was nothing they could do.

(Over a year later, we’re still woken most nights, between 11 PM and 3 AM. Looking back at 2021, it’s clear that sleep deprivation has taken a toll on us.)

It took us a while – and some sleuthing, looking at Better Business Bureau complaints against our corporate landlords – to realize things weren’t going to change.

We decided to find another rental, perhaps one closer to my husband’s office.

Unfortunately, we were too late.

The housing shortage

When remote workers in the U.S. could live anywhere, Orlando was among their top four choices. (Of course. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to go to Disney World, 365 days a year…?)

That’s why, by mid-2021 – many new arrivals were ready to pay rents just slightly lower than they’d paid in NYC. Or buy houses for 4x their previous values.

It’s all about supply-and-demand.

This is from a July 2021 article in the Orlando Sentinel:

The state minimum wage is $8.56, equivalent to $17,804 a year and, after Amendment 2 was passed last November, will increase to $10 in September. But to be able to afford a two-bedroom unit at the $1,290 fair market rent, you’d need to make $24.82 an hour, which amounts to $51,619 for a yearly salary.

“Put another way, a minimum-wage worker would have to work 115 hours a week.

“This report affirms the sad truth, what we already know about Florida’s housing crisis: The average person is priced out of the market,” said Sen. Victor Torres, who was elected to the Legislature in 2012 and represents Osceola County and parts of Orange County. “When it comes to rents, they’re $1,300, $1,400, $1,500 a month depending on if you need a two-bedroom or a three-bedroom. It’s just not fair.”

Ref: https://www.rismedia.com/2021/07/16/florida-among-worst-states-soaring-rents/

Since then, rents have climbed 50% more… or higher. Frankly, we can’t afford to stay here.

And so, we’re moving

We’ll miss Disney World. A lot.

But we’re returning to New England because it seems like our best option.

Yes, this move is more than a little scary. As we start this adventure, we have no real safety net. We don’t know where we’ll live or what we’ll do.

That’s okay. We’ll be happy to get back to white-sand beaches, fresh salt air, glorious mountains, and the friendliness of people in the northeast.